'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Legacy of Marla Ruzicka (Part 1) 

UPDATE: Want a good, shorthand way to determine if an NGO is collaborating with the occupation in Afghanistan? Look and see if they are scrambling to climb aboard the US public relations campaign against WikiLeaks. So far, we have Amnesty International, CIVIC, the Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the the Kabul office of International Crisis Group, and, now, Reporters Without Borders:

The Pentagon has a task force of about 100 people reading the leaked documents to assess the damage done and working, for instance, to alert Afghans who might be identified by name and now could be in danger.

Taliban spokesmen have said they would use the material to try to hunt down people who've been cooperating with what the Taliban considers a foreign invader. That has aroused the concern of several human rights group operating in Afghanistan — as well as Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which on Thursday accused Wikileaks of recklessness.

Jean-Francois Julliard, the group's secretary-general, said that WikiLeaks showed incredible irresponsibility when posting the documents online.

The presence of the Open Society Institute, an organization funded by George Soros, is an interesting one. Perhaps, it is to be expected that an NGO funded by a currency speculator is, at the end of the day, supportive of the violent modernization project underway in Afghanistan. Indeed, don't all of these organizations rely upon such an endeavor for their very existence? Of course, the notion that the Pentagon cares about civilian deaths in Afghanistan remains risible, no matter how often CIVIC tries to persuade us to the contrary.

INITIAL POST: In April 2005, Marla Ruzicka, a US humanitarian worker who documented civilian casualties in Iraq, was killed. In one of my first posts here, I expressed sadness about her death, while describing her political approach to the war in Iraq as fundamentally misguided:

One need only visit the website of the organization that Ruzicka created, CIVIC Worldwide, to recognize the problem. CIVIC, you see, stands for The Campaign for Innocent Civilians in Conflict. Accordingly, it promotes the pernicious distinction between innocent Iraqis, Iraqis who decline to violently resist the occupation, and other, guilty Iraqis who do not. Such a perspective, coming from an American organization, is morally myopic, if not morally offensive, given that it condemns Iraqis for violently resisting their own personal and economic victimization by the Occupation Authority. It is indistinguishable from the one continually advanced by the US military.

Of course, this shouldn't be surprising as it is the inevitable consequence of Ruzicka's decision, after the start of the war, to sever her association with Global Exchange, a non-profit that organized against the war and now condemns the occupation, because she believed that she could subsequently accomplish more by working with the US rather than against it. It is tempting to dismiss the significance of her politics as the result of her political naivete. After all, according to Corn, she reportedly told a friend, My long-term goal is to get a desk at the State Department that looks at civilian casualties.

Not surprisingly, we now discover that CIVIC is providing NGO cover for the US government's public relations assault upon WikiLeaks:

A group of human-rights organizations is pressing WikiLeaks to do a better job of redacting names from thousands of war documents it is publishing, joining the list of critics that claim the Web site's actions could jeopardize the safety of Afghans who aided the U.S. military.

The letter from five human-rights groups sparked a tense exchange in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange issued a tart challenge for the organizations to help with the massive task of removing names from thousands of documents, according to several of the organizations that signed the letter. The exchange shows how WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange risk being isolated from some of their most natural allies in the wake of the documents' publication.

The human-rights groups involved are Amnesty International; Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or CIVIC; Open Society Institute, or OSI, the charitable organization funded by George Soros; Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; and the Kabul office of International Crisis Group, or ICG.

Furthermore, in a statement posted on its website, CIVIC rationalizes the conduct of US forces in Afghanistan:

There are tragic stories of civilian loss in these 70,000 database entries, some that likely could have been avoided and some that seem like honest, horrible mistakes. Either way, they've got to be analyzed so lessons can be drawn. Certainly every incident of civilian harm deserves a full investigation.

To really understand a war and its implications, the human cost should be weighed against strategic considerations. The two go hand-in-hand. That's particularly true in Afghanistan, where commanders now realize the people are the main strategic consideration.

CIVIC has analyzed over 2,000 of entries thus far. We are looking specifically for information about civilian casualties caused by escalation of force incidents, with the goal of better understanding the impact of changes to the rules of engagement and tactical directives during the years these reports cover. To really understand what these documents mean both individually and collectively, we need to be aware of what they are and what they are not. They are, for the most part, spot reports -- one person's documentation of an incident transmitted through various means and held in a database. They do not, however, include much context, for example in-depth reports or investigations. The conclusions we can draw may therefore be limited.

Am I the only person who read this statement, and thought that CIVIC is playing both sides, trying to exploit the release to carve out a private contractor niche for itself as a Pentagon friendly outside investigator of civilian casualties even as it participates in the US campaign against WikiLeaks? In any event, the deferential tone of the statement is predictable, because if you read the list of 2009 accomplishments provided by CIVIC, one can only draw the conclusion that its existence is dependent upon policies of war without end pursued by the US:

Advocating and helping design a new US program for Pakistani war victims, for which Congress appropriated $10 million

Training US officers and enlisted forces, and contributing to new Army policies on civilian harm;

Authoring the only civilian-authored article in the Escalation of Force handbook now being issued to deployed troops;

Conferring by invitation with top military officers, government officials and policymakers on how to improve help for civilians harmed in conflict;

Pressing international forces in Afghanistan for a new compensation policy for civilian casualties, a recommendation supported by Gen. Stanley McChrystal;

•Helping tell the story of Iraqi war victims through a critically acclaimed off-Broadway drama;

•Creating a global movement, the Making Amends Campaign, to change the outcome of war for civilians;

•Building the Making Amends Campaign coalition with a steering committee comprised of Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and Handicap International USA;

•Convincing Security Council delegations that ‘making amends’ was an important new issue under protection of civilians for the international community

A closer examination of the list shows that CIVIC is apparently very good at seizing upon opportunities created by the Obama administration. With Obama expanding the purported war on terror into Pakistan, we discover that CIVIC is helping design a new US program for Pakistani war victims, for which Congress appropriated $10 million. Regrettably, CIVIC is a NGO dedicated to the practice of the political expediency that so characterized Ruzicka's time in Iraq. It may also be something of a bellwether. After all, if we see items on their website related to Iran or South America, we have cause to be concerned.

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